We’re at the mercy of our descriptions

‘We’re at the mercy of our descriptions’, says Lisa Appignanesi, and again: ‘creatures of word and image, we humans are … made and remade by our descriptions’.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of that statement. How we describe the world determines how we experience it. How we describe ourselves shapes our experience of ourselves. And how we describe others clinches which dimensions of the other we can and can’t perceive. Our description of the world we encounter becomes that world, becomes ‘reality’ – at least to us, not infrequently to adverse, in some cases even disastrous effect.

In a book devoted to the issue of feminism, Appignanesi applies this insight to women’s concerns regarding the fact that their lives have always been defined by male descriptions:

… from a little base of biology, humans elaborate who they are through their writing, culture, politics and institutions. For women’s lives to change, it was important to take more of that power of description into our own hands.

From ‘Fifty Shades of My Own …’, in Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes and Susie Orbach (eds), Fifty Shades of Feminism

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